QUEEN’S PARK — The Ford government claims to have been softening its positions at the bargaining table with teachers unions for some time — to no avail — with Education Minister Steven Lecce going public yesterday with “additional” concessions on class size and other sticking points.
The government says “lower than proposed but not lower-than-on-the-ground class sizes” are among the offerings that have been put in front of the involved unions at the bargaining table.
“During the negotiation process, the government tabled proposals with each of the education sector unions, which included substantive moves on lower than proposed but not lower-than-on-the ground class sizes, support for students’ unique learning needs, full-day kindergarten, as well as reasonable proposals on merit-based hiring and compensation,” the government says in the press release distributed by its MPPs, including Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry’s Jim McDonell.
“Despite these consistently reasonable moves, the teachers’ unions continue to reject the government’s student-centric proposals while simultaneously focusing on significant increases in compensation, particularly enriching generous benefits schemes,” the release asserts.
“The government has been reasonable. We have made major moves at the negotiating table that have not been reciprocated by the unions to date,” Lecce insisted in a video broadcast yesterday. “However, we are fighting for Ontario students, and the unions … continue to advance, requests for increased compensation, benefits packages, hiring practices that reward seniority, not merit… ”
“This government has tabled positive, reasonable proposals that are good for students, we have committed in writing to protecting full-day kindergarten, we have committed to keeping classroom sizes low. We have committed 100 percent investment in special education funding, and we’ve offered a fair one percent enhancement in compensation for our valued education workers and our teachers,” the minister said.
“We’re keeping some of the lowest classroom sizes in the country,” the minister said, laying out the apparent concession. “There are no changes in classroom sizes for our youngest learners in junior kindergarten through Grade 3. There are no changes in classroom sizes for students in Grade 4 to 8, and Grade 9 to 12 will see an average class size of 23.”
“I’m calling on the unions to cease strike escalations and return to the bargaining table with this deal in mind, to get a deal, to provide predictability for parents, end this impasse and do what’s right for our kids,” said Lecce, ahead of a planned province-wide one-day strike by the province’s Catholic teachers tomorrow (March 5).
Teachers unions have been without a contract since last summer. A series of rotating one-day pickets have hit various school board jurisdictions, occasionally orchestrated across the province, since January.
The government says its “most recent proposal” to the unions includes:
- A maximum average class size of 23 in secondary schools — “essentially the same” as 2019-2020;
- Replacement of the previous Local Priorities Fund with a new, “student-centric” Supports for Students Fund, to allow boards “more flexibility to address students’ unique learning needs, including special education, mental health, and STEM education”;
- Continuation of the Supports for Students Fund at the same level of the Local Priorities Fund.
- A commitment to maintain full-day kindergarten; and
- “Reasonable” increases in wages and compensation.
The government also says parents will be able opt their children out of proposed mandatory online courses required for graduation.
The teachers’ unions have reacted unhappily to Lecce’s gambit, with Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Harvey Bischof deriding the “amateur hour” performance, according to media accounts of his response.